March impact analysis: cancellations, income loss and uncertainty in first month of lockdown

Society of Authors snapshot survey confirms immediate impact on author income and work in the first weeks of the health crisis.

The SoA has released results of a point-in-time assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on authors’ livelihoods.

The online poll, which ran from 7 to 14 April and attracted 1,087 responses, asked authors to report on how they were affected by the rapidly changing situation up to 1 April. It looked at cancellations, lost income, expectations of support from government and other schemes, and the broader impact on their ability to work and wellbeing.

Lost income and cancellations

78% of respondents reported that they had had events cancelled, with 29% suffering as a result of commissions being lost.

Only 26% expected their income to remain stable (23%) or improve (3%) in the wake of the crisis with 32% unsure as to how it will affect them financially. 42% say they expect to be worse off.

Losses reported to date range from one-off cancellations worth £100-£200 to authors dependent on events, school visits and academic work reporting the loss of 25-50% of their 2020 income through cancellations notified in March.

Government support

In response to questions about the packages of support announced by the Government, 84% said they do not expect to benefit from the Government’s Job Retention Scheme and 85% that they would not benefit from changes to Universal Credit.

85% of respondents reported either that they were unsure as to whether they would benefit under the Government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (‘SEISS’) or that they would not do so,  (26% saying they were unsure and 59% confirming they would fall outside SEISS rules).

These findings support the SoA’s concerns set out in our detailed submission sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the day the poll opened (available here). With 54% of respondents earning more than half of their income from non-writing work, many authors are concerned about HM Treasury’s requirement that over half of a self-employed worker’s annual income should be earned from self-employed work in order to benefit from the SEISS.

Commenting on the results, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said: 

Authors are understandably concerned about supply difficulties and lost sales due to the coronavirus crisis. Most cannot absorb these losses and, with many reliant on royalty income, they now also run the risk of falling between gaps in the Government’s financial support schemes. They should continue to be paid in accordance with their contracts and should consult the guidance available from our website.

We are equally concerned about maintaining viable and diverse creative industries following the crisis so, as well as pushing hard for the Government to do more to ease the financial burden on creative freelancers, we will continue to lobby for more effective support for smaller and independent bookshops and publishers throughout and beyond the current situation.

Broader impact

Three quarters of respondents said they were concerned about the impact of the health crisis on their ability to work, with 87% worried about its effect on their wellbeing.

We plan to repeat the survey at intervals over the next few months to chart the continued impact and effectiveness of Government and other support on offer.

The SoA has issued guidance on contractual cancellations in the wake of COVID-19, which is available here. SoA members should contact our team of advisors about their individual circumstances as each case will differ commercially and contractually.

The Authors’ Emergency Fund continues to accept applications for small grants to help mitigate financial losses caused by the crisis.

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